CPP alumnus mixes it up in bar and restaurant industry

By Allen Valdez, April 6, 2021

Cal Poly Pomona alumnus Pedro Barriga (‘06, international business and marketing) is a local bar manager at O’Donovan’s and mixologist at multiple bars featured in various publications, including Angeleno Magazine, for his cocktail crafting expertise.

Unlike many of his competitors in the bar and restaurant management industry, Barriga, a Huntington Beach native, broke into the scene in an unconventional way about a decade ago.

“I had a very career-driven job as soon as I got out of school and I was working for a pharmaceutical company,” Barriga recalled. “I just wasn’t happy doing it, so that’s why I went back to the bar business. I pretty much created my job, and I’ve been doing that for the last 10 years.”

While studying at CPP, Barriga built his experience as a bartender through a part-time job at The District in Fullerton. The social aspect, like engaging with customers, is one of the main charms that led him back to the field.

Now, Barriga enjoys a multitude of successes, from bartending to curating cocktails for various restaurants.

“Since I’ve left the other industry, I’ve, in some way, shape or form, touched 174 different bars now — whether it was consulting, writing a menu, retraining staff, bringing in booze, formulating costs or getting certain analysis done,” Barriga said.

As a former CPP track and field athlete, Barriga credited being in a competitive team environment as one of the many attributes that helped him thrive and move forward with his career in the niche industry. With a minor in sociology, he also acknowledged that developing a strong foundation in public speaking comes as an advantage.

Barriga hopes that there will be more opportunities for people to be educated when it comes to running bars or restaurants.

“We have a hospitality option at Cal Poly, but it’s not driven toward alcohol or managing alcohol and bar management,” Barriga said. “I honestly think that we lack in our industry so much with people who understand functionality and cost analysis.”

After the year-long closure of bars, Barriga explained that the majority of the challenges in the field are COVID-related with businesses unable to afford the staff, leading to employees not returning to work.

“Our industry has completely changed forever,” Barriga said. “I don’t think we even understand extensively how much it has changed, and I don’t think we’ll know for the next couple of years.”

According to Barriga, another concern within the industry is that establishments are being required to offer food when reopening, resulting in them operating without sufficient knowledge of proper food safety protocols. In the upcoming months, he predicts that many restaurants may have issues with foodborne illnesses because of this.

Looking ahead, Barriga hopes to play a part and help set the new standard for the post-pandemic world of dining and drinking experiences in bars and restaurants.

“We’re at the pinnacle of rewriting what it means to go and have a drink, have food and what we have to do to do it,” Barriga said. “That goes for anyone involved in a restaurant to opening a restaurant, being a bartender, cocktail waitress, server and host.”

Barriga advises students aspiring to be work in the bar business industry to be outgoing and bold, crucial characteristics when working in the field.

“This industry is not for the thin-skinned and weak-hearted. It takes a lot of grit but there is a lot of money to be made,” Barriga said. “People will eat and drink for the rest of their lives but right now, more than ever, is the most important opportunity for people to get involved because we are about to rewrite the food culture.”

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